Image of a red rescue drone

Lifeguards on more than 20 beaches in Spain use drones like this one.

Gavin Rodgers/Alamy Stock Photo

Drones to the Rescue

Drones are soaring to new heights—and saving lives—around the world.

Last summer, a trip to the beach took a terrifying turn for a teen in Europe. The 14-year-old boy had gone swimming off the coast of Valencia, Spain. Suddenly, he was struggling to stay afloat.

Within seconds, lifeguards saw that the boy was in trouble. But they didn’t immediately jump into the water. Instead, they first used something that could reach the teen much faster: a drone. 

A pilot on the ground quickly steered the drone over the boy and released a life vest. The teen grabbed on and managed to stay afloat until lifeguards arrived to bring him to shore. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment and sent home the next day.

That dramatic rescue is just one example of the power of drones in emergencies. From battling wildfires to delivering medicine, drones are helping to save lives worldwide.

Courtesy of Jesse Juchtzer, Desert Research Institute/U.S. Forest Service 

A drone collects data during a fire in Utah.

Flying Robots at Work

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are aircraft with no crew or passengers onboard. Some are as big as airplanes and can weigh as much as 55,000 pounds. Others are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

UAVs are used in many ways. Some have cameras to help filmmakers shoot scenes from high overhead. Farmers use drones to monitor the health of their crops. And for less than $20, kids can fly a drone around their backyards.

Help From Up High

In recent years, drones have also become essential tools for emergency responders. After a hurricane or flood, for example, drones have been used to survey an area to search for survivors. That lets rescue crews know exactly where to go. 

Drones are useful when it comes to fighting wildfires too, says Justin Baxter. He works for the U.S. Forest Service. UAVs allow experts to track the blazes and determine where they might spread. That helps firefighters decide which residents need to evacuate.

“Drones give firefighters on the ground a better understanding of what the fire is doing,” Baxter explains. “That leads to better and quicker decision making.”

Plus, drones can fly at night or in thick smoke, when it’s not safe to send in helicopters with human pilots.


A health-care worker in Africa loads a VillageReach drone with medical supplies.

Saving Lives

UAVs also make it possible for people in hard-to-reach places to get vaccines and medical supplies. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a company called VillageReach uses drones to deliver medicine. The country’s thick forests and rough terrain make traveling tough. It can take up to 12 hours to deliver medicine by car or bicycle. But thanks to drones that can zip through the air, health centers can now receive lifesaving supplies in as little as 20 minutes.

“Now we are able to send whatever they need whenever they need it,” says Olivier Defawe of VillageReach. “Drones are a game changer.”

  1. Based on the article, what do all drones have in common?
  2. Why does Olivier Defawe of VillageReach call drones a “game changer”?
  3. What is the purpose of the sidebar, “Meet SnotBot”?
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